October 11th: Featured Poet Charles "SeaBe" Banks & Open Mic

Charles "SeaBe" Banks presenting....at Before Your Quiet Eyes bookstore

Charles "SeaBe" Banks presenting....at Before Your Quiet Eyes bookstore

Charles (aka “SeaBe”) Banks performance was also a JP book launch for his SeaBe: My First Poetry Book, Inner Child Press (2014). Bravo, Charles! Your poems not only capture the contemporary urban voice, but readers will hear your deep basso reading voice as they enjoy this wonderful chapbook.

He led off with a new poem “Life Crosses a Dangerous Road,” where “time heals, but it also kills.” Then he asked the audience to choose fromfour categories: Love, Fun, Social Ills, or Death. The audience chose Fun.

The response was an hilarious ode to fast food, “Burgers and Fries,” from his chapbook: “I’ll be Burger King’s Queen / just slip me … some onion rings.” And what will it take to make his girl “squeal / call me her Big Daddy”? (Hint: something from McDonald’s that rhymes with “squeal” and is said to be “happy”) After large applause, the audience again chose Fun.

Banks treated us to “Happy Belated Goose Day.” No, really, he assured us Goose Day is September 30th. Well, who knew? “I goose on Facebook. / Pokes are not polite.” He’s a fine comic, and the audience really gave it up for him. Then someone called for Social Ills.

He dressed us in “DeaD- Man’s Clothes,” lost among the hopeless homeless, stressing the “Heavy deaDness / No place to be living …” in a jazz poem worthy of comparison with some of Langston Hughes’. Banks named Hughes as one of his poetry mentors. Listen: “Livin’ in Dead Man sleeves / Strapped up belief / Lifeless Belt pulled tight …” Can you hear a bit of Hughes? The audience next chose Love.

Another new poem, “Rare Love,” manifested passion as “a hunger for another / rarely goes away.” Hear it and fall in love all over again. Next, the audience picked Social Ills.

“Way Ward BounD” is a kind of love poem to the homeless: “I live on the Edge the cut the corner the curb ….. where stePPs serve as … / Tables and Chairs,” and other images, especially hunger, that make homelessness too painful to ignore.  By now you've noticed Banks’ eccentric capitalization and punctuation, reminiscent of Russell Atkins, Bob McDonough’s Cleveland composer/poet friend Bob presented to our group last year.  Then the audience opted for Fun.

“PUMPkin BuTT pie Sweet Potatoe Bootie” gave a recipe that came with “a warning / readings / careful if you taste it it cums alive / it’s attracted to BiGG Ole BUTTS / and yours is the right size …..” It's a Thanksgiving poem from hell,  that could have come from Rice, Gorey, or Poe but is Banks’ own little demonic piece. It is also included in SeaBe, the chapbook.

SeaBe closed with a new Love poem. In “Poets,” who “travel light,” he credits Leonard Cohen and Billie Holliday for that concept, citing poets “with their watchful eyes, leaking hearts …”

Given Banks’ theatrical delivery and honest words, don’t hesitate to buy his book, to attend his readings, or to regard him as an emerging poet among contemporary greats. To a relatively new JP member, “Welcome Charles, and keep ‘em cOMinG!”

August featured poet Jennifer Maloney & open mic

Just Poets welcomed first-year member Jen Maloney as the featured reader for our second Wednesday of the month reading at Before Your Quiet Eyes, Ken Kelbaugh’s fine bookstore on Monroe Avenue.

Maloney said the poems she read follow a twenty-year hiatus from writing when poverty, addiction, and mental and physical abuse dominated her life. Emphasizing survival, Maloney credits the gift of friends and community for her return to poetry, as well as advice from Ralph Waldo Emerson, quoting Polonius: “To thine own self be true.”

From her first poem, “Fight Song,” we realized the ambiguity of flight and fight, from “I’m loose, light, and ready,” then “shit peppered with love … maybe she’s dying of love,” to “I watch him silently planning his next drunk.” The flight soon becomes a fight for survival in the poem “Women’s Meeting,” in which the poem’s voice rose “high, high, high … then dropped back down … like a shovelful of graveyard dirt.” In “The Floor,” a child’s voice tells us, “I can’t explain the taste of the floor,” as the older-wiser voice reflects, “Children believe … they try to make sense.” The adult voice of “Stars and Stripes” wants her flag freed from the insanity in Washington today: “We are too old for tears,” and at night we have the stars as window blinds “stripe the floor with moonlight.”

Next Maloney lightened the atmosphere with several pet poems. “Sammy,” a dog, “stretches one leg back, arabesque,” as if he were a ballet dancer, and provides comfort: “Sammy has faith in us, faith in himself.” The man who hates his woman’s cats, “The Man Who Loved Cats Dancing,” wields the power of the tuna can while calling them filthy names and screaming at them to “use the scratching post!” Indeed, “they listen to him.” And for every pet-lover, “Thou Good and Faithful” dog who died thirty-plus years ago is remembered for “the white, muddy feathers of his underbelly.” He is “warm, wet and stinking … is there anything more than this?”

Maloney closed with four powerful pieces. “Miss September” finds a California sugar-daddy in “the place where honeypot meets honey trap.” A typical take on an air-headed beauty? No, Miss September “isn’t stupid … Miss October isn’t 18.” In “How Things End,” the poem begins at home where “the lights went off.” A couple living in their car eats “the last of the bananas,” thinking “we could drive home, but there’s nothing there. … At least the car has blankets.” In “Of Miracles,” Tatiana is a short young black woman mistaken by police for a tall black male suspect. She is beaten by the Bakersfield PD and bitten by their dog. She “made the mistake of thinking she was an American citizen.” Maloney’s observation: “The real crime is not driving while Black … but breathing while Black.” Like Maloney, Tatiana is a survivor.

Closing out, “The Poet’s Lament” poked fun at all of us when we take ourselves too seriously: “Do you know who was better, Bukowski or Ginsberg?” Maloney’s advice is learn to “shut the hell up … simply let someone else speak. … After all, we are just poets.”

Or was it Just Poets?! The room was rapt and packed. A dozen readers offered their work at the open mic. The Coffee Connection, a non-profit supporting women in recovery, provided regular, decaf, and decadent cookies. Thanks again to Ken for providing the space in which such magic happens.

Review by Maril Nowak

Open Mic

Genesee Reading Series: Colleen Powderly & Kristen Gentry

Two women: one an author of short stories, one a poet; years separating their perspective on life; an interesting and enlightening evening at Writers & Books—Genesee Reading Series last night (August 8th).

Poet Colleen Powderly came with that podium ease that so entices the audience to engage, laugh and make that “hmmm”sound when a line hits its target (poets do that). It was a pleasure to travel through her love affairs, her ekphrastic poems based on a Vincent Van Gogh day calendar, and her strong “Ten Penny (nail)” poem about returning to Ireland with her aging father. Powderly’s poems are clear, eagle eyed, honest, and tell a story. They also work because there is craft in her work. But it is her ability to see “new”: in relationships; “My Lovers’ Hips”; see the daylight; “I watched light grow into the trees outside…” and on Van Gogh’s paintings of women working in the field; “He began to ‘see’ while painting them...” ; this is where one finds the word “profound.” 

Short story writer, Kristen Gentry, associate English professor at SUNY Geneseo, read “Mama Said” her lead piece in her upcoming collection of linked stories. “Mama Said” is a look inside the strain of daughters and mothers tied to addiction. Gentry read with animation and insight about that egg-shell walk around parental addiction; lines like “touching her arm to see if she is alive,” and the daughter’s feelings “of wishing she could run her mother over with the car, not to die, but to let her know how mad she was…” set that fear and anger in good passage.  Her comeback- overture line Gentry brought throughout the story was “you can’t fix her.”  But Gentry’s protagonist and story find a fixing strength and a worthy conclusion.    

A good reading last night.

Review by David Delaney

July Open Mic: Le Mot Juste 2017 Edition

On the way out of the Before Your Quiet Eyes bookstore that held JP’s (Just Poets) “Open Mic Night,” last night (7/12/2017), a first-time attendee (Mike) turned and said,” I am impressed; I just heard a lot of good poetry….” Normally JP hosts a featured reader each month, but last night the poems (most of them) came from JP’s annual publication Le Mot Juste (the right word).

Kitty Jospé, this year’s LMJ editor, led the read around by many of the JP members in attendance. The annual publication contains the work of more than 60 poets, all ages, all thoughts – all good. It makes one think about the importance of poetry, and also makes one stop to thank the founders who started the Just Poets group: Donna Marbach, Claudia Stanek, Lorrie Divers and Harold Dill. There was an easy and solid sense of unity last night because these and other poets, who more than a decade ago, took the time and effort to put this idea into reality. The result has been a growing and welcoming poetry group that now reaches near 90 in members and reaches into the Greater Rochester community bringing the power of words where it does and will do its magic. 

After the LMJ read around, the Open Mic brought some new work to the audience: Maril Nowak read her poem, “The Success of Age”; Gene Stelzig read his poem, “All Our Ships Have Sailed”; David Purdy read a written-that-morning piece on overlooking the Erie Canal, and a poem generated from his and poet Monica Beck’s June trip to Ireland entitled “The Green That Grows Upon the Orange.” Monica read a WB Yeats classic “When You Are Old.” Jere Fletcher read his poem, “Morning Glory”; Jen Hu read an as-of- last- night untitled poem; Charles Banks read his poem, “The Skeptic”, and Kitty Jospé’ read her poem, “Hamlet’s Reply to Recipes Based on Jell-O.” Several attendees read additional LMJ poems for poets who did not attend. 


Next Month’s Open Mic (August 9) features Jennifer Maloney.

Review by David Delaney

Just Poets Annual Picnic & Le Mot Juste 2017

On Saturday, June 3rd, Just Poets held its annual picnic. This event always gives JP members a chance to catch up with each other as well as celebrate the publication of our yearly anthology Le Mot Juste

The 13th edition of Le Mot Juste is dedicated to our good friends, Michael & Carolyn Czarnecki of FootHills Publishing. Celebrating 30 years of publishing, Michael & Carolyn have hand-made every LMJ edition.

The 13th edition of Le Mot Juste is dedicated to our good friends, Michael & Carolyn Czarnecki of FootHills Publishing. Celebrating 30 years of publishing, Michael & Carolyn have hand-made every LMJ edition.

This year's editor, Kitty Jospe, shared a write-up of our big day:

A hearty thank you to Karla Linn Merrifield who hosted the Just Poets annual picnic for the third year in a row.  In addition to a feast of delicious foods, we had a visual feast of poetry, starting with a couch covered by books generously donated by Bill Heyen. As he modestly said, it’s because his publishers are going out of business.  Karla suggested that people wanting to match his generosity make a $5 donation to Just Poets.  I believe she meant in particular for the hardcover copy of Hiroshima Suite with the stunning cover illustration by DeLoss McGraw, The Fish, but certainly, there were so many other books to choose from.

Other poets brought works as well--the top drawer of a chest was open to disclose titles.  Facing the couch was a delightful photo display Bart White put up of members and their activities.

After we ate, Bart gave a lovely overview of all the activities of Just Poets and all the people who worked behind the scenes to create wonderful programs and community connections.  He read a poem by Maril Nowak as an example of the fine work produced in JP meetings.                      

Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia
Mid-afternoon waves rising to collapse
waves jazzing the pebbled shore
waves in a shimmy of sunlight
waves in a rupture of the bag
of diamonds on the pier.

It’s like this:
When you watch the water dance
you have to dance along.
When you watch the water toss
its treasure you have to grab for it.
When you watch the water’s weave
you will wear that new coat home.

After Bart's brief but pointed year-in-review, we had a fantastic read-around where everyone shared a poem of their own. Some read from this year's Le Mot Juste, others recited new material or old favorites.

It was a great day, a beautiful display of exactly what this group has to offer. As Karla, our gracious host, remarked at the conclusion of the day: "Damn, we're good." I could not possibly agree more.

Genesee Reading Series, April 11th

The impression one takes away from Tuesday night’s Writers & Books Genesee Reading Series was a sense of stillness. Neither Andrea Weinstein nor Jennifer Grotz, the two featured poets, brought the rumble of dump trucks unloading personal issues. More measured, metered and self-reflective, each, in turn, offered a glimpse of themselves through their work.

Weinstein offered the sentiment “silence gives the self a chance to replenish.” Her poem, “I Hear” bespoke that inner search: “…rhythms in blessed silence….” Using listing in several pieces, she asked in her poem, “One Good Man” to:  “…stand up… to yell loud and long…” in her humbled lament against man’s inhumanity to man. She touched upon elegies, one in particular “Archaeology of Life” about what others might find in the treasures left “post  Weinstein,” listing a number of things accumulated including “neon strapped heals…”  and summed it up eloquently in here poem’s closing line “When I am not here what will be gleamed for these artifacts? I think not much.” Poetically, not true.

Jennifer Grotz read several poems from her books, but true to the night’s unofficial theme of quietude, her work was delivered in measured tone. Whether observations in her self-portrait, “The Window” with lines like “Eyes wide like an owl’s…anger hides in the jaw…” the window image was imaginative and superb.  Her reflections continued with poems that spoke of her writing times generated while in a French monastery. Grotz’s comment, “sight leads to insight” rang true throughout. Whether observing a Krakow nun riding across from her on public transportation or her lines from, “The Mountain” observed from the monastery: “No matter how long I looked I could not see it all… how to look at something too big to fit the frame…” or her delicate poem brushing fear, “Scorpion,” or concluding her reading with “Poppies” and the natural wonder around, which she summated with “Love is letting the world be half tamed,” Grotz’s poems like Weinstein’s brought a stillness to the evening that was refreshing.

The Genesee Reading Series is now in its 34th year at Writers & Books, and is held every month on the second Tuesday. 

Review by David J. Delaney

Healing Voices: an R-Voices Event

With husband Roger Weir, cancer survivor, sitting next to her, Just Poets’ Karla Linn Merrifield stood up. “We’ve been coming here for 18 years,” Karla said to the 25 or so Oncology staff volunteers and caregivers who came to share lunch and words at the R-Voices’ “Healing Voices: Poetry at Wilmot” reading. Not 18 times, 18 years. Imagine that. It was my first time in this Family Resource Center. It was the first time Strong held such an event. Karla read three strong poems: “At the Feet of Birds” “On Earth” and “Invitation in Massai” from her chapbook The Urn. Then Just Poets members, as well as cancer survivors themselves, Ruth Wright and Anita Augesen shared some cathartic work of their own. Ruth read her poem “The Salon,” her metaphor for the radiation room, and Anita read “Chemotherapy,” telling of losing her hair and finding so much more. They brought the poetic voice of “what’s-it-like being a patient.” Colleen Powderly, David Delaney, Precious Bedell, and Bart White also shared their work. Then several of the staff and volunteers in attendance gave poetic voice to the warm and friendly gathering. Senior Social Worker Sandra Sabatka explained how she heard a poem on the radio coming into work one morning on WXXI’s“Writer’s Almanac.” She read that poem entitled “I Give Thanks” by Marie Reynolds.  Michele Allen, from the Oncology finance office read Mary Oliver’s “Summer Morning.” Caregiver Ellen Van Zandt read her poem “I Climbed a Mountain Today.” Hazel Pugh, assistant to Catherine Thomas, director of Patient Services, shifted gears a bit and sang a beautiful rendition of “What a Piece Of Work is Man” from the musical Hair. Applause. Applause for all. Dwight Hettler, the Wilmot Center’s assistant associate director, and Catherine Thomas expressed their pleasure at this event. “This is the first time we have had poetry here” said Dwight.  And he enthusiastically welcomed a return next year. Catherine Thomas gave the poets and attendees a big thanks and a special thanks to Sandra Sabatka, Bart, and Karla for putting it all together. But the last words came from Karla.  “Cancer teaches us so much,” said Karla. Imagine that. by David Delaney For more photos and a video of this event, please click here.

With husband Roger Weir, cancer survivor, sitting next to her, Just Poets’ Karla Linn Merrifield stood up. “We’ve been coming here for 18 years,” Karla said to the 25 or so Oncology staff volunteers and caregivers who came to share lunch and words at the R-Voices’ “Healing Voices: Poetry at Wilmot” reading. Not 18 times, 18 years. Imagine that. It was my first time in this Family Resource Center. It was the first time Strong held such an event.

Karla read three strong poems: “At the Feet of Birds” “On Earth” and “Invitation in Massai” from her chapbook The Urn. Then Just Poets members, as well as cancer survivors themselves, Ruth Wright and Anita Augesen shared some cathartic work of their own. Ruth read her poem “The Salon,” her metaphor for the radiation room, and Anita read “Chemotherapy,” telling of losing her hair and finding so much more. They brought the poetic voice of “what’s-it-like being a patient.” Colleen Powderly, David Delaney, Precious Bedell, and Bart White also shared their work.

Then several of the staff and volunteers in attendance gave poetic voice to the warm and friendly gathering. Senior Social Worker Sandra Sabatka explained how she heard a poem on the radio coming into work one morning on WXXI’s“Writer’s Almanac.” She read that poem entitled “I Give Thanks” by Marie Reynolds.  Michele Allen, from the Oncology finance office read Mary Oliver’s “Summer Morning.” Caregiver Ellen Van Zandt read her poem “I Climbed a Mountain Today.” Hazel Pugh, assistant to Catherine Thomas, director of Patient Services, shifted gears a bit and sang a beautiful rendition of “What a Piece Of Work is Man” from the musical Hair. Applause. Applause for all.

Dwight Hettler, the Wilmot Center’s assistant associate director, and Catherine Thomas expressed their pleasure at this event. “This is the first time we have had poetry here” said Dwight.  And he enthusiastically welcomed a return next year. Catherine Thomas gave the poets and attendees a big thanks and a special thanks to Sandra Sabatka, Bart, and Karla for putting it all together.

But the last words came from Karla. 

“Cancer teaches us so much,” said Karla.

Imagine that.

by David Delaney

For more photos and a video of this event, please click here.

Gail Hosking featured at Just Poets Open Mic in June

This month’s featured poet, RIT instructor Gail Hosking, churned through a number of turbulent and affecting poems about war, family, the “collision” of different points of view, as well as love and its devastating effects. Several stirred the audience to stillness as she recounted insanities played out as normalities. A clever reach was her grab at Marvin Gaye’s classic “What’s Goin’ On” and threaded it with impressive lines like “…rusted tanks left slow moving ghosts…” that reflected on her “army brat” upbringing.  Her poem “Crossfire March 1967” brought back Vietnam, and “Damn the Moon” put a new spin on that old standby in the sky with her lunar persona watching the wreckage below.  Her work was cadenced and her complex thematic weave played deceptively easy. 

A schooled and accomplished essayist, Gail also spoke of how she came to tackle poetry –“I just sat down and wrote 100 poems” a comment that speaks to a modified slogan: “just doing it”. Her poems and list of accomplishments indicate her years of work have paid off.  

David White opened the open mic portion of the evening with short burst poems that brought laughter and contemplation to the audience. Kitty Jospe’s persona poem “Dear Piano” is right at the top of her game, and Breven Bell rolled out an intimate and fierce, yet delicate, five section love poem with several gutsy lines gutsy including “I murdered your indifference…” Jim Jordan read his poem “They Say that Normans Enrich the Language”—a look at our origins and what could have linguistically changed had history been altered. Roy Bent recited his “Poetry Died on Friday” with professional presence. Bart White brought out a new poem “Brutal Proof” that too stilled the audience. JP MC David Yockel started and concluded the evening with Gail Hosking’s poet of choice Stephen Dunn.

You know, this little bookstore, Before Your Quiet Eyes, in the heart of the Monroe Avenue is a pretty cool place for a reading (thanks to Ken the owner). And Just Poets is pretty cool for making poetry happen there. Monthly open mics are second Wednesdays of each month at 7 p.m. Enjoy the neighborhood, some good poetry, or better yet, come out and share one!

Review by David Delaney